Monday, 30 December 2019

Poetry Revisited: Not Yet by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

Not Yet

(from Poems: 1908)

Time brought me many another friend
               That loved me longer.
New love was kind, but in the end
               Old love was stronger.

Years come and go. No New Year yet
               Hath slain December.
And all that should have cried — “Forget!“
               Cries but — “Remember!“

Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907)
British novelist and poet

Friday, 27 December 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

In The Wizard of Oz little Dorothy learns that “there’s no place like home” although her adventures ended well and she made good friends along the way. Not every return home leads to the same nostalgic illumination, though, especially when much time has passed and there’s little left to remind of the old days. Things change. People come and go like buildings, entire neighbourhoods or even nature. But a return home can as well mean a new start like in my bookish déjá-vu A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy. After twenty years in the USA, Geraldine comes over to her Irish home town for a holiday and then stays for good to bring new life to a run-down old mansion remodelling it with the help of friends and relatives into a cosy little country hotel. Guests with very different backgrounds and sorrows arrive for the grand opening in December…
Read my review »

Monday, 23 December 2019

Poetry Revisited: Christmas by P. H. Lovecraft


(from The Tryout, 6, No. 11: November 1920)

The cottage hearth beams warm and bright,
               The candles gaily glow;
The stars emit a kinder light
               Above the drifted snow.

Down from the sky a magic steals
               To glad the passing year,
And belfries sing with joyous peals,
               For Christmastide is here!

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937)
American writer

Friday, 20 December 2019

Book Review: One Man’s Bible by Gao Xingjian much we’d like to start life all over again with a clean slate after a traumatising experience, it’s virtually impossible. If we like it or not, any such experience has a lasting impact on our world view and on our behaviour as well. It marks and even forms us. Cases of dementia and brain injury excluded, we can only refuse to allow memories to come back to our conscious minds. Nonetheless, they keep working on us under the surface. And more often than not, these disagreeable ghosts of the past return sooner or later to haunt us. Ten years after his flight, the exiled playwright in One Man’s Bible by Gao Xinjian, the Sino-French recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2000, finds himself forced to relive the trauma of almost fifty years under Communist reign that he tried to forget when his Jewish-German sex partner starts asking questions.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Back Reviews Reel: December 2016

Reviews of three classical and two contemporary novels closed my Double Alphabet of Writers in December 2016. First, I entered The Hive by en-Nobel-ed Camilo José Cela to witness people’s daily struggles in Madrid of 1943. From Spain I jumped to modern-day Japan where The Lake by Yoshimoto Banana disclosed the traumatic past of the narrator’s lover. Back to Europe, namely to France and England, I joined the amateur literary scholar from Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes in his study of Gustave Flaubert’s character. Then I moved on to late nineteenth-century Vienna and marvelled at the inventive account of The Secret of an Empress by Countess Zanardi Landi, a woman striving for recognition as concealed daughter of Emperor Francis-Joseph of Austria and his beautiful wife Elisabeth. And finally, I leaped to 1960s Japan to follow the psychological changes of the disfigured narrator of The Face of Another by Abe Kōbō.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Poetry Revisited: Winter Night by E. C. Kinney

Winter Night

(from Poems: 1867)

How calm, how solemn, how sublime the scene!
The moon in full-orbed glory sails above,
And stars in myriads around her move,
Each looking down with watchful eye serene
On earth, which, in a snowy shroud arrayed,
And still, as if in death’s embrace ‘twere laid.
Saddens the spirit with its corpse-like mien:
Yet doth it charm the eye — its gaze still hold;
Just as the face of one we loved, when cold
And pale and lovely e’en in death ‘tis seen,
Will fix the mourner’s eye, tho’ trembling fears
Fill all his heart, and thickly fall his tears:
O, I could watch till morn should change the sight,
This cold, this beautiful, this mournful Winter night.

Elizabeth Clementine Kinney (1810-1889)
American writer

Monday, 9 December 2019

Poetry Revisited: December by Joel Benton


(from John Burroughs: Songs of Nature: 1901)

When the feud of hot and cold
Leaves the autumn woodlands bare;
When the year is getting old.
And flowers are dead, and keen the air;

When the crow has new concern.
And early sounds his raucous note;
And—where the late witch-hazels burn—
The squirrel from a chuckling throat

Tells that one larder's space is filled,
And tilts upon a towering tree;
And, valiant, quick, and keenly thrilled.
Upstarts the tiny chickadee;

When the sun's still shortening arc
Too soon night's shadows dun and gray
Brings on, and fields are drear and dark,
And summer birds have flown away,—

I feel the year's slow-beating heart.
The sky's chill prophecy I know;
And welcome the consummate art
Which weaves this spotless shroud of snow!

Joel Benton (1832-1911)
American writer, poet and lecturer

Friday, 6 December 2019

Book Review: Fräulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther by Elizabeth von Arnim

Just a hundred years ago the status of a girl largely depended on her chances for marriage. If she hadn’t found a husband by her mid-twenties people around would start looking at her askance, especially when there was nothing in her looks, behaviour or family background to put off courters. Only few women dared to actively defy society’s expectations, least of all the teenage ones who didn’t really know life yet. It was universally acknowledged that a girl who received a marriage proposal from a suitable match should be overjoyed and so is the letter-writing protagonist of the 1907 epistolary novel Fräulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther by Elizabeth von Arnim. Twenty-five years old and a poor scholar’s daughter, she was convinced to end her life as old maid, but all of a sudden she finds herself secretly engaged to an Englishman much above her. The initial happiness doesn’t last, though…

Monday, 2 December 2019

Poetry Revisited: Winter in the Library by Enid Derham

Winter in the Library

(from The Mountain Road and Other Verses: 1912)

All the Iivelong day
I feed on ancient sweets,
Nor heed how the wind blows
Nor how the wild rain beats,
For at my will I wander through
Green lanes and busy streets.

I look from Parnassus
Over Delphi to the sea,
Or singing I loiter In heavenly Sicily,
And Theocritus comes down to share
His honeycomb with me.

Now's the time for poets,
In the wintry weather!
From deeds of arms to love I fly
Inconstant as a feather,
To grey beards leave philosophy,—
We shall be young together!

Yet if one I know should call me
With a look from the door.
O poets mine, I would not stay
By any lane or shore,
For all your lyrics toy our loves,
And the light oaths you swore.

Enid Derham (1882-1941)
Australian poet and academic

Friday, 29 November 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Farewell Angel by Carmen Martín Gaite

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish dream from reality, especially for people with a vivid imagination who aren’t quite willing to face the hard facts of adult life. Often they build themselves comfortable castles in the clouds to look down at the world through rose-coloured spectacles, but the foundations easily get cracks. Inhabitants who don’t notice the damage or take it too easy, will hurt themselves badly falling freely to the ground, while the others will make an effort to see things as they truly are. At his release from prison, the dreamy protagonist of my bookish déjà-vu The Farewell Angel by Carmen Martín Gaite learns that his parents have been killed in a car accident. Completely on his own, he realises that he’ll never find his way in the real world unless he can break the freezing spell of The Snow Queen from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale…
Read my review »

Monday, 25 November 2019

Poetry Revisited: Versuch der Erinnerung – Attempt at Remembrance by Karl Kraus

Versuch der Erinnerung

(aus Worte in Versen IX: 1930)

Was hab ich nur heute geträumt?
Noch spür ich, wie ich im Schlaf
ohne Schwanken das Richtige traf,
und das Ding gehorchte aufs Wort.

Nicht war zwischen hier und dort
die letzte Entscheidung schwer.
Jetzt schwank ich, ob es nicht mehr
den Zweifel gab oder noch nicht.

Nichts hatte und alles Gewicht
und federleicht alle Last.
Noch fühl ich, wie es sich paßt,
noch mess ich mit anderem Maß.

Und weiß schon, daß ich's vergaß.
Und nur, daß es glich jener Lust,
bevor ich ins Leben gemußt,
und jener, wenn es vorbei.

Dazwischen ist alles versäumt,
und alles ist einerlei.
Wenn ich nur wüßt, was es sei,
wovon ich heute geträumt!

Karl Kraus (1874-1936)
österreichischer Publizist, Satiriker, Lyriker,
Aphoristiker, Dramatiker, Förderer junger Autoren,
Sprach- und Kulturkritiker

Attempt at Remembrance

(from Words in Verse IX: 1930)

What did I dream about today?
Still I feel how while asleep I
Hit without wavering the right,
And the thing obeyed at a word.

Between here and there was not
Hard the last decision.
Now I waver whether no longer
There was the doubt or not yet.

Nothing had and all weight
And feather-light all burden.
Still I feel how it is fit,
Still I weigh with another measure.

And I know already that I forgot it.
And only that it was like that lust
Before I had to enter into life,
And that one when it is over.

In between everything is missed,
and everything is all the same.
If only I knew what it was,
what I dreamed of today!

Karl Kraus (1874-1936)
Austrian publicist, satirist, lyricist,
aphorist,dramatist, patron of young authors,
linguistic and cultural critic

Literal translation: Edith Lagraziana 2019

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Back Reviews Reel: November 2016

After a one-novel stay in the Far East a three-book tour of Europe was on my review schedule of this month three years ago. My point of departure was seventeenth-century Japan where I joined a Catholic missionary from Portugal whose faith was put to an atrocious test in the classical novel Silence by Endō Shūsaku. From there I travelled to Ancient Greece, or rather to Anatolia, to witness the cruel fate of Cassandra by contemporary German writer Christa Wolf who couldn’t save Troy with her prophecies. In modern-day Ireland I met The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle when she learnt that her violent husband had been killed by the police and she was finally free to start a new life with their children. At last, I plunged into a French classic only loosely set in place and time that revolves around The Fig Tree by Françoise Xénakis.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Poetry Revisited: Autumn in the Hills by Frances Fuller Victor

Autumn in the Hills

(from Poems: 1900)

November came that day,
⁠And all the air was gray
⁠With delicate mists, blown down
From hilltops by the south wind’s balmy breath;
⁠And all the oaks were brown
⁠As Egypt’s kings in death.
⁠The maple’s crown of gold
⁠Laid tarnished on the wold;
The alder, and the ash, the aspen and the willow,
⁠Wore tattered suits of yellow.

⁠The soft October rains
⁠Had left some scarlet stains
Of color on the landscape’s neutral ground;
⁠Those fine ephemeral things,
⁠The winged notes of sound,
⁠That sing the “Harvest Home“
⁠Of ripe Autumn in the gloam
Of the deep and bosky woods, in the field and by the river,
⁠Sang that day their best endeavor.

⁠I said: “In what sweet place
⁠Shall we meet, face to face,
⁠Her loveliest self to see—
Meet Nature, at her sad autumnal rites,
⁠And learn the mystery
⁠Of her unnamed delights?“
⁠Then you said: “Let us go
⁠Where the late violets blow
In hollows of the hills, under dead oak leaves hiding;—
⁠We’ll find she’s there abiding.“

⁠Do we recall that day?
⁠Has its grace passed away—
⁠Its tenderest, dream-like tone,
Like one of Turner’s landscapes limned on air—
⁠Has its fine perfume flown
⁠And left the memory bare?
⁠Not so; its charm is still
⁠Over wood, vale and hill—
The ferny odor sweet, the humming insect chorus,
⁠The spirit that before us

⁠Enticed us with delights
⁠To the blue, breezy heights.
⁠O, beautiful hills that stand
Serene ‘twixt earth and heaven, with the grace
⁠Of both to make you grand,—
⁠Your loveliness leaves place
⁠For nothing fairer, fair,
⁠And complete beyond compare,
O, lovely purple hills! O, first day of November,
⁠Be sure that I remember.

Salem. Or., 1869.

Frances Fuller Victor (1826-1902)
American historian, novelist and poet

Friday, 15 November 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Snow by Orhan Pamuk

The return to the place of a happy childhood can be quite overwhelming for everybody, notably for a sensitive person who has been away for long. Faded and repressed memories are bound to resurface in the once familiar surroundings, but such a reencounter with the past will inevitably revive emotions, too. Sometimes it may even feel like a time warp with everything that this implies. In my bookish déjà-vu Snow by Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Turkish poet Ka who has been living in political exile in Germany for many years, arrives in the Eastern Anatolian town of his early childhood. He hopes to overcome writer’s block meeting his recently divorced schoolmate İpek on whom he had a crush as a boy, when heavy snowfalls cut off the place and inspire the head of a travelling theatre troupe to seize power in town…
Read my review »

Monday, 11 November 2019

Poetry Revisited: November’s Cadence by James Earl of Southesk

November’s Cadence

(from The Burial of Isis and Other Pems: 1884)

The bees about the Linden-tree,
When blithely summer blooms were springing,
Would hum a heartsome melody,
The simple baby-soul of singing:
And thus my spirit sang to me
When youth its wanton way was winging;
          ‘Be glad, be sad —thou hast the choice—
          But mingle music with thy voice.’

The linnets on the Linden-tree,
Among the leaves in autumn dying,
Are making gentle melody,
A mild, mysterious, mournful sighing:
And thus my spirit sings to me
While years are flying, flying, flying;
          ‘Be sad, be sad —thou hast no choice—
          But mourn with music in thy voice.’

James Earl of Southesk (1827-1905)
Scottish nobleman, explorer and poet

Monday, 4 November 2019

Poetry Revisited: In the Rushing Wind by Carmen Sylva

In the Rushing Wind

(from Sweet Hours: 1904)

THE wind hath whirled the leaves from off the tree.
The leaves were yellow, they had lived their time,
And lie a golden heap or fly away,
As if the butterflies had left their wings
Behind, when love's short summertime had gone,
And killed them. Lightly doth the leaves' great shower
Whirl on and skim the ground, where ancient leaves
Lie rotten, trampled on, so featureless,
That you can hardly tell what formed that mould,
That never-ending burial-place of leaves.
And then the wind will shake and bend the tree,
And twist its branches off, burst it asunder,
Uproot the giant and bring low his head,
Upheave the granite block round which the roots
Had taken hold for countless centuries.
On goes the wind! The corn is green and soft—
Earth's wavy fur. It does but ripple lightly
In childish laughter at the harmless fun
That was a death-blow. But the sea awakes
And frowns and foams and rises into anger
So wild with wrath, and yet so powerless,
As if a thousand chains had chained it down,
To howl, to suffer, to rebel against
The heartless merriment of stronger powers.
On goes the wind, to shake the rock, to blow
Into a flame, the wild incendiary,
And never doth he look behind, to see,
To feel, to understand the horror he
Hath worked. The breath—the robe of Destiny—
Sweeps on, sweeps past, and never lists that hell
And heaven have awaked, in shrieking anguish,
But blows the clouds away, laughs at the sun,
And falls into unconscious, dreamless sleep.

Carmen Sylva (1843-1916), real name Pauline Elisabeth Ottilie Luise of Wied
Queen Consort of Romania and Romanian writer

Monday, 28 October 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Trees at Night by William Kerr

The Trees at Night

(from Georgian Poetry 1920-22: 1922)

Under vague silver moonlight
The trees are lovely and ghostly,
In the pale blue of the night
There are few stars to see.

The leaves are green still, but brown-blent:
They stir not, only known
By a poignant delicate scent
To the lonely moon blown.

The lonely lovely trees sigh
For summer spent and gone:
A few homing leaves drift by,
Poor souls bewildered and wan.

William Kerr (fl. 1922-1927)
English Georgian poet

Monday, 21 October 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Autumn Wind by Caroline Sheridan Norton

The Autumn Wind

(from The Dream and Other Poems: 1840)

Hush, moaning autumn wind! be still, be still!
Thy grieving voice forbiddeth hearts to rest;
We hear thee sweeping down the lonely hill,
And mournful thoughts crowd o'er the human breast.
Why wilt thou haunt us, with thy voice unkind,
Sadd'ning the earth? Hush, moaning autumn wind!

Toss not the branching trees so wildly high,
Filling the forest with thy dreary sound:
Without thy aid the hues of summer die,
And the sear leaves fall scatter'd to the ground.
Thou dost but hasten, needlessly unkind,
The winter's task, thou moaning autumn wind!

Caroline Sheridan Norton (1808-1877)
English social reformer and author

Friday, 18 October 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Man Who Searched for Love by Pitigrilli

Click on the index card to enlarge it!

Some people take life more seriously than others. The idealists among them will be determined to work hard to make the world a better place because they aren’t willing to simply put up with its being the way it is, especially when they feel that they have the skill, the power and the drive to change things. Put to the test of reality, however, such idealism will almost inevitably wear out before long unless it’s firmly based on a strong character, unwavering belief or/and the support of family and friends. In the Italian classic The Man Who Searched for Love by Pitigrilli, another one of my bookish déjà-vu, a judge in his mid-thirties readily resigns from his post in Paris of the 1920s because he is annoyed with having to administer law instead of justice. Having fallen in love with a circus artist, he joins her troupe as a clown…
Read my review »

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Back Reviews Reel: October 2016

Leafing back three years in my blogging calendar, there are two classical and two contemporary novels on my review list of October. I started with a less widely read work by the English recipient of the 1932 Nobel Prize in Literature, namely The Dark Flower by John Galsworthy, showing a sculptor of animals passionately in love three times in three decades. Then I moved on to the red-light district of modern-day Antwerp in Belgium with four Nigerian prostitutes stuck On Black Sisters’ Street by Chika Unigwe with no way out. In Montauk by Max Frisch I went back to the 1970s to join an ageing Swiss writer on a week-end trip to Long Island in the USA with his young lover. And finally, I travelled Victorian England and Italy with a mother who sacrifices herself for her daughter, the child prodigy and one of the The Devourers by Annie Vivanti.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Poetry Revisited: Sitting by the Fire by Henry Kendall

Sitting by the Fire

(from Poems and Songs: 1862)

Ah! the solace in the sitting,
          Sitting by the fire,
When the wind without is calling
And the fourfold clouds are falling,
With the rain-racks intermitting,
          Over slope and spire.
Ah! the solace in the sitting,
          Sitting by the fire.

Then, and then, a man may ponder,
          Sitting by the fire,
Over fair far days, and faces
Shining in sweet-coloured places
Ere the thunder broke asunder
          Life and dear Desire.
Thus, and thus, a man may ponder,
          Sitting by the fire.

Waifs of song pursue, perplex me,
          Sitting by the fire:
Just a note, and lo, the change then!
Like a child, I turn and range then,
Till a shadow starts to vex me –
          Passion's wasted pyre.
So do songs pursue, perplex me,
          Sitting by the fire.

Night by night – the old, old story –
          Sitting by the fire,
Night by night, the dead leaves grieve me:
Ah! the touch when youth shall leave me,
Like my fathers, shrunken, hoary,
          With the years that tire.
Night by night – that old, old story,
          Sitting by the fire.

Sing for slumber, sister Clara,
          Sitting by the fire.
I could hide my head and sleep now,
Far from those who laugh and weep now,
Like a trammelled, faint wayfarer,
          'Neath yon mountain-spire.
Sing for slumber, sister Clara,
          Sitting by the fire.

Henry Kendall (1839-1882)
Australian author and bush poet

Friday, 11 October 2019

Book Review: The Curse of Kim's Daughters by Pak Kyongni are people, even entire families, who get more than the usual share of misfortune in life. While some may simply call it bad luck, others will be convinced that in the world nothing ever happens without a reason because everything is interconnected. In fact, it can be very comforting to believe that God, the Universe, whatever is just and that sooner or later we all get what we deserve. First published in 1962, the historical novel The Curse of Kim's Daughters by Pak Kyongni (or Park Kyong-ni for the English edition that appeared in 2004) follows the karmic decline of a well-to-do family in a small Korean sea port during the first decades of the twentieth century. Their misfortune starts with a hot-tempered husband who drives his terrified wife into suicide, kills an innocent man and disappears, but it’s his son and his grand-daughters who eventually pay the price.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Poetry Revisited: Czend – Silence by Margit Kaffka


(Kaffka Margit könyveből: 1906)

Én nem tudok
A csendről, melybe száz forró titok
És jövendő viharok lelke ébred;
Hol nászát üli száz rejtett ígéret.
A csendről, melyre mennydörgés felel,
Idegzett húr most, oh most pattan el,
Vagy fölzengi a nagy harmóniát,
Az életet, az üdvöt, a halált,
Mindegy! Valami jönni, jönni fog!
– – Ily csendről nem tudok.

De ismerem
Hol bús töprengés ág-boga terem,
A csonka mult idétlen hordozóját,
Sok, sok magános, lomha alkonyórát,
Melyből a szótalan, közömbös árnyak
Vád nélkül, halkan a szívemre szállnak,
S a szívnek várni, – várni nincs joga, –
Úgy jő a holnap, ahogy jött a ma,
Míg percre perc születni kénytelen,
– – – E csöndet ismerem.


Kaffka Margit (1880-1918)
magyar író, költő, feminista és publicista


(from Magda Kaffka’s Book: 1906)

I know not
Of the silence in which hundred hot secrets
And future storms one’s soul awakens;
Where one embraces a hundred hidden promises.
From the silence to which the thunder answers,
A nervous string now, oh a string snapping away,
Or it wells up like the great harmony,
The Life, the salvation, the death,
All the same! Something to come, it will come!
– – Such silence I do not know.

But I know it
Where sad pondering brings forth its branch,
The broken silly carrier of the past,
Many, many lonely, sluggish twilight hours,
From which the wordless, indifferent shadows
Without accusation, quietly fly into my heart,
And the heart to wait, – there is no right to wait –
So will come the tomorrow as has come the today,
While it takes minutes and minutes to be born,
– – – This silence I know.


Margit Kaffka (1880-1918)
Hungarian writer, poet, feminist and publicist

Literal translation: Edith Lagraziana 2019 with help
from several dictionaries and grammar books

Friday, 4 October 2019

Book Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
For many people there comes a moment, when they look back on life and re-evaluate the choices that they made along the way. Often it’s an event that draws attention to how fragile and short a human life is – like the death of someone close – that inspires such contemplation of what they did or failed to do. The lucky ones will find that overall they missed nothing that really mattered and have little to complain about, while others may be weighed down by the memory of lost opportunities and abandoned dreams. The Englishwoman past sixty who starts the correspondence of Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson did all her life what needed to be done or what others expected of her. Now her best friend died and they never got round to making true their almost lifelong dream of seeing the Tollund Man in his museum in Denmark…

Monday, 30 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: To Autumn by John Keats

To Autumn

(from Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems: 1820)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,—
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats (1795-1821)
English Romantic poet

Friday, 27 September 2019

Book Review: The Women at the Pump by Knut Hamsun fate strikes badly and turns life completely upside down thwarting all plans, it’s usually a very unsettling experience that can make feel at a loss even the most flexible mind. Some people quickly pull themselves together and take life back into their own hands trying to make the best of the situation, while others give in to despair and just drift on with the current unwilling to set a new course because it just doesn’t seem worthwhile or at least possible. The protagonist of The Women at the Pump by Knut Hamsum, the recipient of the 1920 Nobel Prize in Literature, is one of the latter. Having lost one leg in an accident aboard a cargo steamer and unfit to work as a sailor again, Oliver Andersen takes to brooding and idling away his time. Not even for the sake of his growing family, he is able to change.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: Thoughts by Marjorie L. C. Pickthall


(from Little Songs. A Book of Poems: 1925)

I gave my thoughts a golden peach,
A silver citron tree;
They clustered dumbly out of reach
And would not sing for me.

I built my thoughts a roof of rush,
A little byre beside;
They left my music to the thrush
And flew at eveningtide.

I went my way and would not care
If they should come and go;
A thousand birds seemed up in air,
My thoughts were singing so.

Marjorie L. C. Pickthall (1883-1922)
London-born Canadian writer and poet

Friday, 20 September 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider

Peculiarities that make a person stand out of her or his social circle often result in marginalisation and even exclusion, be it out of disgust or out of awe. In either case, fear of the different and the inexplicable plays an important role in how people behave towards her or him. In former times, many may have concealed – if possible – what singled them out to avoid being accused of dealing with the Devil or exercising witchcraft. Nonetheless, even those with enviable, presumably godly gifts used (and use) to have difficulty in finding their place in society and to develop a sense of belonging. The protagonist of Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider, which I chose as a bookish déjà-vu, is doubly afflicted: his looks are highly unusual, especially after his tenth birthday, and he is a musical genius among eighteenth-century mountain farmers who only know church hymns and folk dance.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Back Reviews Reel: September 2016

With the reviews of five books, three classics and two contemporary works, I filled my blog this month three years ago. I started my tour in Barcelona of the 1930s with the coming-of-age of a recently married girl In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda. Then Black Rain by Ibuse Masuji took me to Hiroshima to see what the Atomic bomb did to the city and its people after 6 August 1945. Afterwards, I travelled to Europe to join an Austrian girl of the 1970s who can’t bear her comfortable life as stay-at-home wife in Why Is There Salt In the Sea? by Austrian writer Brigitte Schwaiger and to observe the changes that the Muslim Brotherhood introduces in France of the 2020s as Submission by Michel Houellebecq imagines them. And finally, I returned to Japan between 1928 and the 1950s with the committed primary teacher of Twenty-four Eyes by Tsuboi Sakae.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: Alter Ego by Æ

Alter Ego

(from The Nuts of Knowledge: 1903)

All the morn a spirit gay
Breathes within my heart a rhyme,
'Tis but hide and seek we play
In and out the courts of Time.

Fairy lover, when my feet
Through the tangled woodland go,
'Tis thy sunny fingers fleet
Fleck the fire dews to and fro.

In the moonlight grows a smile
Mid its rays of dusty pearl—
'Tis but hide and seek the while,
As some frolic boy and girl.

When I fade into the deep
Some mysterious radiance showers
From the jewel-heart of sleep
Through the veil of darkened hours.

Where the ring of twilight gleams
Round the sanctuary wrought,
Whispers haunt me—in my dreams
We are one yet know it not.

Some for beauty follow long
Flying traces; some there be
Seek thee only for a song:
I to lose myself in thee.

Æ (1867-1935), real name George William Russell
Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, painter and nationalist

Friday, 13 September 2019

Book Review: Fear and His Servant by Mirjana Novaković
Sometimes there are rumours about extraordinary, even mysterious events that give us the creeps no matter how erudite and rational we happen to be because – if only for an instant – they make us speculate what would be if it were true. Authors even like to toy with such musings in books and films. Take for instance zombies, revenants and vampires. For us today they may be delightfully scary creatures because they belong to the realm of superstition and ancient religions, but for our ancestors it was a real threat to be haunted by one of these undead or even worse to become one of them instead of passing on into eternal life after death. In the modern Serbian novel Fear and His Servant by Mirjana Novaković the Devil himself travels to Belgrade out of fear that the vampires whispered about all around may be real and presage his impending end.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: In an Apple Tree by Kate Greenaway

In an Apple Tree

(from Marigold Garden: 1885)

In September, when the apples were red,
To Belinda I said,
“Would you like to go away
To Heaven, or stay
Here in this orchard full of trees
All your life?” And she said, “If you please
I'll stay here where I know,
And the flowers grow.”

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901)
English Victorian artist and writer

Friday, 6 September 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach

When love takes on the nature of obsession, it can do a lot of harm. In a way that strongly reminds of a drug, it can cloud even the sharpest mind and make the affected act like a fool and do really stupid things against her or his better judgement. Even worse if the target of obsession is somebody cold, calculating and manipulative who only thinks of her or his own advantage and doesn’t mind sacrificing others for her or his own sake. Lucky are those who wake up in time and find the strength to escape the harmful influence of such obsessive love like the first-person narrator of my Swiss bookish déjà-vu, namely Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach. In Berlin of the 1930s, the law student from a well-to-do family falls for a charismatic cabaret singer although everybody around warns him against her and begins to neglect his studies….
Read my review »

Monday, 2 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: Harvest by John Charles McNeill


(from Songs, Merry and Sad: 1906)

Cows in the stall and sheep in the fold;
Clouds in the west, deep crimson and gold;
          A heron's far flight to a roost somewhere;
          The twitter of killdees keen in the air;
The noise of a wagon that jolts through the gloam
          On the last load home.

There are lights in the windows; a blue spire of smoke
Climbs from the grange grove of elm and oak.
          The smell of the Earth, where the night pours to her
          Its dewy libation, is sweeter than myrrh,
And an incense to Toil is the smell of the loam
          On the last load home.

John Charles McNeill (1874-1907)
Amercan poet

Friday, 30 August 2019

Book Review: To Bury Our Fathers by Sergio Ramírez

It’s people who make history by way of passing on knowledge about the more or less heroic deeds of individuals and groups to later generations not just through different memorabilia, but also as stories that over time may even turn into legends. Above all, turbulent times that are exceptional with regard to what people have to go through and bear with – be they wars or revolutions, be they periods of voluntary or forced migration, just to give a few examples – are a hotbed for such stories. And wherever people come together it’s likely to hear the one or other of them like in To Bury Our Fathers by Sergio Ramírez, a Nicaraguan novel from the 1970s that evokes from different perspectives the country’s (or actually the whole region’s) tragic that is history marked by terror regimes and armed resistence with or without the meddling of the USA and the USSR.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Poetry Revisited: Sunset by Constance Naden


(from Songs and Sonnets of Springtime: 1881)

The sun is setting not in colours gay,
But pure as when he blazed with noon-day heat;
The upland path is gold before my feet,
Save where long, dancing, poplar-shadows play,
Or arching lindens cast a broader grey:
This radiant hour, when peace and passion meet,
Stirs with tumultuous breezes, freshly sweet,
The odorous languor of an August day.

Above is peace; below is gleeful strife ;
Aflame with sunshine, battling with the wind,
The trees rejoice in plenitude of life:
A sea of light is sleeping in the west,
Untroubled light, o’erflowing heart and mind
With that empyreal rapture, which is rest.

Constance Naden (1858-1889)
English writer, poet and philosopher

Friday, 23 August 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Penguin Island by Anatole France

Much like beauty also truth is in the eye of the beholder. This becomes particularly obvious with regard to history because known facts are always subject to interpretation and often allow very different, if not utterly contradictory conclusions to fill inevitable gaps. The factors that influence our view of the past are as myriad as they are manifold and, if we like it or not, they are more or less marked result of individual knowledge and belief. Politicians, notably demagogues gladly take advantage of this bias of historical truth to create their own, suitable version of events past with the help of experts who share their ideas. In the Chronicles of the fictitious country Penguinia, which span from the Middle Ages to a highly technological future, my bookish déjà-vu Penguin Island by Anatole France, recipient of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Literature, satirises historiography at the service of militant patriotism.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Back Reviews Reel: August 2016

Except for the dystopian fantasy from the Habsburg monarchy before the first Great War, all books that I presented at this time of summer three years ago dealt with World War II and with some of its effects on later generations respectively. I started the month’s tour on The Train by Vera Panova, a forgotten Stalinist classic about people working on a hospital train behind the front lines of Eastern Europe. After a nightmarish detour to The Other Side with Austrian writer and graphic artist Alfred Kubin that evoked a walled-up “Dream Kingdom” somewhere in the mountains of Central Asia in the 1960s, I returned to war-time Soviet Union and accompanied The Conductor by Sarah Quigley during the siege of Leningrad. And finally I joined The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson who is the son of Jewish immigrants in Manchester and relives his adolescence as a gifted table tennis player.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Poetry Revisited: A vida – The Life by Júlio Dinis

A vida

(das Poesías: 1873)

A alvorada foi risonha;
Ergueste-te como o dia,
Eu fiz, naquela alvorada,
Uma alegre profecia.

Inda radiava fulgente
Vénus, a saudosa estrela,
Já tu ornavas as trancas
E cantavas à janela.

E dos laranjais vizinhos
Os rouxinóis acordados
Respondiam-te com trinos
Da tua voz namorados.

Dos virentes jasmineiros,
Que a Primavera enflorava,
Vinha cheio de perfumes
O vento que te beijava.

Quem dissera então ao ver-te
Nessa risonha alvorada,
Que a noite, estrela cadente,
Serias inanimada?


Júlio Dinis (1839-1871)
médico e escritor português

The Life

(from Poems: 1873)

The dawn was radiant;
You stood up like the day,
I made, at that dawn,
A joyful prophecy.

Still shines bright
Venus, the yearning star,
Already you decorated the plaits
And sang at the window.

And from the nearby orange groves
The awake nightingales
Answered you with trills
Filled with love by your voice.

From the viridescent jasmine,
That Spring made bloom,
Vineyard full of perfumes
The wind that kissed you.

Who said then when I saw you
At this radiant dawn,
That the night, shooting star,
You would be lifeless?


Júlio Dinis (1839-1871)
Portuguese doctor and writer

Literal translation: Edith LaGraziana 2019

Friday, 16 August 2019

Book Review: Souls Divided by Matilde Serao

Since times immemorial the main ingredients of a good love story are two steadfast lovers who overcome all kinds of obstacles and hazards until at last they are allowed to live “happily ever after” or – occasionally – find a tragic end after the model of Hellenic Hero and Leander or Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet. Unrequited love, on the other hand, isn’t such a popular subject of the Romance genre unless its twists and turns lead to a happy ending for the infatuated protagonist after all. The fictitious letters forming the almost forgotten Italian classic Souls Divided by six-time (sic!) Nobel Prize nominee Matilde Serao show a man in his early thirties who falls head over heels in love with a voice and seeks relief in writing to the woman for over a year because even after having found out her name and having exchanged furtive glances social conventions keep them apart.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Poetry Revisited: Every-Day Heroes by Charlotte Young

Every-Day Heroes

(from The World's Complaint and Other Poems: 1847)

We speak and we read of the hero’s deeds,
     And envy perchance his fame;
We would tread, like him, some path that leads
     To gaining a deathless name;
And we sigh as our time is vainly spent,
„Oh, ‘t was not for this that I was meant!“

We feel, with a touch of deep regret,
     What nothing’s, alas! we ‘ve been;
How like a stagnant pool, as yet,
     Has been to us Life’s stream.
There seemed to our souls a warning scut,—
„Mortal! for this thou wert not meant.”

Yet we sit and dream of a better day,
     And idly its coming wait,
When, like the hero of poet’s lay,
     We too maybe something great;
And still through the mist our spirits grope,
For the distant gleam of this better hope.

For alas! while we dream these airy dreams,
     And sigh for the better afar,
We are dwelling on that which only seems,
     While we slight the truths that are.
We are looking for flowers more fair and sweet,
While we trample the fairest ‘neath our feet.

The wearisome, lone, and monotonous lot,
     Where To-day ‘s as the day that is gone;
Where To-morrow brings nothing To-day has not,
     Nor evening the hopes of the morn;
Oh! even here, in the loneliest hours,
Are there lying some fair but neglected flowers.

Some being we gaze on from day to day,
     And tend with a holy care,
Lightening the woes in each other’s way,
     Each breathing a mutual prayer.
Oh! here, in the homeliest act or speech,
May we to the fame of a hero reach.

For when selfish thoughts are for others subdued,
     And smiles conquer the rising frown,
When we love our own in another’s good,
     Oh! we weave us a deathless crown,
That many a hero’s present or past,
With all its glory, has never surpassed.

Oh! did we but see how in smallest things
     Are beginnings of all that ‘s great,
Life’s soil woidd be watered by countless springs,
     That now ‘neath the surface wait.
We should feel that when earthward kindly sent,
For heroes and heroines all were meant.

Charlotte Young (fl. 1847)
British poet

Monday, 5 August 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Sun Upon the Weirdlaw Hill by Sir Walter Scott

The Sun Upon the Weirdlaw Hill

(from George Thomson: A Select Collection of
Original Scottish Airs for the Voice. Volume V: 1818)

The sun upon the Weirdlaw Hill,
     In Ettrick‟s vale, is sinking sweet;
The westland wind is hush and still,
     The lake lies sleeping at my feet.
Yet not the landscape to mine eye
     Bears those bright hues that once it bore;
Though evening, with her richest dye,
     Flames o‟er the hills of Ettrick‟s shore.

With listless look along the plain,
     I see Tweed‟s silver current glide,
And coldly mark the holy fane
     Of Melrose rise in ruin‟d pride.
The quiet lake, the balmy air,
     The hill, the stream, the tower, the tree,—
Are they still such as once they were?
     Or is the dreary change in me?

Alas, the warp‟d and broken board,
     How can it bear the painter‟s dye!
The harp of strain‟d and tuneless chord,
     How to the minstrel‟s skill reply!
To aching eyes each landscape lowers,
     To feverish pulse each gale blows chill;
And Araby‟s or Eden‟s bowers
     Were barren as this moorland hill.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian

Friday, 2 August 2019

Book Review: The Illustrious House of Ramires by José Maria de Eça de Queirós

For a person who grew up in a family of long linage with a glorious past incorporated by adventurous and fearless ancestors whose deeds keep being recounted all across the country, it can be difficult to give life a direction that doesn’t fall short of their example. In The Illustrious House of Ramires by José Maria de Eça de Queirós a young man who is exceedingly conscious and proud of his many legendary ancestors decides to go into politics because it will allow him to live at ease and to add his own to the country’s history at the same time. The trouble is that he has nothing except the name of his respectable family in his favour and needs to overcome his cowardice making himself known to the world. Thus, he begins to write a heroic novella about the brave men who started his family in the twelfth century…

José Maria de Eça de Queirós was born in Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal, in November 1845. During law studies in Coimbra he published poetry and later worked as journalist for a while. Besides, he collaborated with others on Correspondence of Fradique Mendes (Correspondência de Fradique Mendes: 1900) and The Mystery of the Sintra Road (O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra: 1870) released under his name, while working on The Relic (A Relíquia: 1887). The Crime of Father Amaro (O Crime do Padre Amaro: 1875) established him as novelist, but he continued as public servant contributing to periodicals alongside. His most famous novels Cousin Bazilio (O Primo Basílio: 1878), The Mandarin (O Mandarim: 1880) and The Maias (Os Maias: 1888) he wrote as diplomat in England before becoming consul-general in Paris. José Maria de Eça de Queirós died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, in August 1900, revising The Illustrious House of Ramires (A Ilustre Casa de Ramires: 1900) for the press. Unfinished The City and the Mountains (A Cidade e as Serras: 1901) and Alves & Co.  (Alves & Companhia: 1925; also published in English as The Yellow Sofa) appeared posthumously along with reprints of short stories, poetry, journalistic work and private correspondence.

Thirty years old and unmarried, Gonçalo Mendes Ramires is the last “Nobleman of the Tower” from The Illustrious House of Ramires, one of the oldest families of Portugal. By the late 1800s, however, the family’s glory is gone and the revenues from the Tower and another estate hardly permit Gonçalo the life-style that he enjoys and considers appropriate for a man of his station. His sister Gracinha is well provided for thanks to her marriage to a wealthy bourgeois, but he still worries about her because André Cavaleiro, their neighbour and brotherly friend of Gonçalo courted her for years leaving the girl desperate when he withdrew instead of proposed. Hurt in his family pride and trying to protect the virtue of his sister, whom he believes still in love with Cavaleiro, he even broke with his friend and blackens him whenever he can. Moreover, he envies his political career that already made him Civil Governor of the District and promises to promote him to Minister of the government. His other friends, too, are important men in local politics and administration, while Gonçalo has little to boast with except his lineage that he can trace back to the twelfth century. To improve his position and income he makes up his mind to go into politics as well and grudgingly reconciles with Cavaleiro for his support when unexpectedly the opportunity to be elected into Parliament arises, but he is uncertain of himself and convinced that he lacks the popularity to succeed. Having had some success with a novella during his studies, he sets out to make himself a name with a novella about his heroic ancestor Tructesindo Ramires that closely follows the lead of an epic poem published some fifty years earlier by an uncle and the example of Sir Walter Scott.

Written from the third-person perspective of an unconcerned as well as omniscient observer, The Illustrious House of Ramires draws the satirical portrait of a young nobleman who tries to enhance importance and reputation of his old family as well as of himself becoming a writer and a politician –mainly because he lacks willpower, energy and skill for other professional activity. A dreamer and a coward who likes to distort his “adventures” in his favour, he wants to write a heroic novella in celebration of his legendary twelfth-century ancestor whose chivalry and fearlessness he admires. Embedded in the chronological plot that shows the protagonist’s present life just before 1900, the five chapters of his historical novella mirror moods and events during the summer months up to his election into Parliament, a narrative structure that decades later Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago also used – slightly altered – in The History of the Siege of Lisbon (»»» read my review). Nostalgic of his family’s past splendour, the protagonist clearly stands for his country Portugal at the dawn of modern times. Saturated with impressive images and sometimes a bit lengthy by today’s tastes, language and style are typical of a realist novel of the time.

Altogether, I’m pleased to say that The Illustrious House of Ramires by José Maria de Eça de Queirós turned out to be an engaging and entertaining read for me although I must confess that I struggled quite a bit with the original Portuguese not mastering the language as well as I would like to. It was the second novel from the pen of this remarkable nineteenth-century writer that I read… and I liked it just as much as (shorter) Cousin Bazilio (»»» read my review). It seems that English-speaking readers now get a chance to rediscover this Portuguese master of realist style (greater even than Gustave Flaubert according to Émile Zola and to me) because several new translations have been coming out these past years. As historical fiction that was contemporary at the time of its first release, his novels definitely deserve more attention and I gladly recommend this one.

Nota bene:
Since José Maria de Eça de Queirós died already in 1900, the original Portuguese editions of his work are in the public domain in Europe. The major part of the fiction can be downloaded legally and for free from Luso Livros, Project Gutenberg and similar sites. Probably, many of the early translations are no longer protected by copyright, either, but hardly any of them seem to have been digitised and made available online, so far.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Poetry Revisited: Soliloquy by a Parachute Jumper by Mary E. Bulkley

Soliloquy by a Parachute Jumper

(from Poetry Magazine, June 1942)

We do not know how tall was Newton’s tree
From which fell Newton’s apple,
Whence he drew laws to work infallibly.

Now, I’m that apple, falling full miles five
Instead of full five feet.
Was Newton’s aplle picked up whole, alive?

If “square of time” measured his apple’s race
(Whole ages gone, I left my stemless tree)
I must be dropping at a pretty pace.

But I’ve a leaf hisapple could not match,
For mine, I hope, is full of magic power.
My leaf can swell and swell (unless it catch).

Will it grow big now that I’ve pulled its strings?
Thank God, it jerks.
My dash has changed to gentle flutterings,

Not with the ghastly crash his law put there;
My leaf has saved its apple
And it makes vod the las “sixteen t square.”

Mary Ezit Bulkley (1856-1947)
American writer and poet

Friday, 26 July 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Matters of Honor by Louis Begley

Whichever the individual story, to have survived World War II as a Jew in Eastern Europe must have been an experience that marked, if not scarred the person for life. Even the luckier ones who were spared the hideous concentration camps of the Nazis thanks to the help of courageous people hiding them and providing them best possible with the essentials, can tell the most heart-rending stories. However, many of the survivors preferred to stay silent about this time of suffering in the (vain) attempt to forget the horrific ghosts of the past. Some even went so far as to deny their Jewish origins in order to be just like everybody else and to avoid being the target of further anti-Semitism. The protagonist of my bookish déjà-vu, Matters of Honor by Louis Begley, is one of the latter, but as every so often the past isn’t so easily cast off…
Read my review »

Monday, 22 July 2019

Poetry Revisited: Raiders’ Dawn by Alun Lewis

Raiders’ Dawn

(from Raiders’ Dawn and Other Poems: 1942)

Softly the civilized
Centuries fall,
Paper on paper,
Peter on Paul.

And lovers walking
From the night—
Eternity’s masters,
Slaves of Time—
Recognize only
The drifting white
Fall of small faces
In pits of lime.

Blue necklace left
On a charred chair
Tells that Beauty
Was startled there.

Alun Lewis (1915-1944)
Welsh poet

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Back Reviews Reel: July 2016

On the five Fridays of July 2016, I presented three contemporary works, two of them genre fiction from Japan and a holocaust novel from Italy, along with two classics from 1920s France and Wilhelmian Germany respectively. I started with the Japanese noir The Thief by Nakamura Fuminori about a pickpocket who gets mixed up in a murder. Then I moved back in time to Paris in the early 1920s to follow the daily activities of Five Women on a Galley by Suzanne Normand and on to a small German Duchy on the verge of bankruptcy at the fin-de-siècle to accompany the Royal Highness by Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann. In the remote Japanese mountain village of The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ogawa Ito an exceptional young cook serves almost magical dishes. And If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi evokes the hardships of Jews fighting in the Polish resistance.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Click of the Garden Gate by May Hill

The Click of the Garden Gate

(from The Casualties Were Small. Wartime Poetry and Diaries
of a Lincolnshire Seaside Villager: 2009)

I hear the click of the garden gate
But it is not he
He comes no more either early or late
To his dinner or tea
He is far away in an Air Force Camp
Learning to fight
(I wonder if his blankets are damp
And if he sleeps well at night)

Not twenty years when went away
Just a boy
He may never again come back to stay
To delight and annoy
Will what he has gained balance what he has lost?
He will change
Will his growth to manhood improve him most?
Or make him change?

I open the casement into his room
So tidy and neat
And the sun shines in and chases the gloom
And the wind blows sweet
Ready for him when, early or late
He comes back home to the sea
I hear the click of the garden gate
But it is not he.
(Perhaps it is Rene coming to tea!)

December 1940

May Hill (1891-1944)
English diarist and poet

Friday, 12 July 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay

There can be no doubt that living in times of war is a traumatic experience. Even those who never see any fighting, nor suffer bodily harm of any kind are inevitably marked by its manifold horrors for the rest of their lives. War changes people and often for the worse as proves history. Moreover, it can be difficult to return to peaceful normality with the ghosts of the past looming around every corner and apprehension, even suspicion become second nature. Especially children grown up under such hostile circumstances will at first feel out of place in peace because nothing prepared them for it. Thus the teenage protagonist of my bookish déjà-vu The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay finds it hard to adapt to her new life with her father’s family in post-war England after wild years between French Resistance and Nazi rulers in Southern France…
Read my review »

Monday, 8 July 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Unborn by Edward Dyson

The Unborn

(from Hello, Soldier! Khaki Verse: 1919)

I see grim War, a bestial thing,
with swinish tusks to tear;
Upon his back the vampires cling,
Thin vipers twine among his hair,
The tiger's greed is in his jowl,
His eye is red with bloody tears,
And every obscene beast and fowl
From out his leprous visage leers.
In glowing pride fell fiends arise,
And, trampled, God the Father lies.

Not God alone the Demon slays;
The hills that swell to Heaven drip
With ooze of murdered men; for days
The dead drift with the drifting ship,
And far as eye may see the plain
Is cumbered deep with slaughtered ones,
Contorted to the shape of pain,
Dissolving 'neath the callous suns,
And driven in his foetid breath
Still ply the harvesters of Death.

He sits astride an engine dread,
And at his touch the awful ball
Across the quaking world is sped,
I see a million creatures fall.
Beyond the soldiers on the hill,
The mother by her bassinet.
The bolt its mission must fulfill,
And in the years that are not yet
Creation by the blow is shorn
Of dimpled hosts of babes unborn!

Edward Dyson (1865-1931)
Australian journalist, poet, playwright and short story writer

Friday, 5 July 2019

Book Review: Crabwalk by Günter Grass

As time passes, ideas may go out of fashion or even become kind of taboo, but once in the world they never disappear completely. These days, fascist ideas including national socialist ones see an alarming revival all around the world thanks to – for the moment still – democratic movements that prudently deny their roots. Such pretended nationalistic and patriotic, but actually racist ideologies make believe that they can put the unfathomable chaos of the modern world in a clear order and especially the young are easy prey for the populist demagogues who cunningly preach them taking advantage of the growing discontent in the population over living conditions and cultural diversity. In the novel Crabwalk by en-NOBEL-ed German writer Günter Grass a journalist from Berlin retraces his own and his mother’s lives to understand how their history encouraged his son to write a Nazi blog and to kill his pretended Jewish counterpart.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Poetry Revisited: Die Abendglocke auf dem Berge – The Evening Bell on the Mountain by Caroline Pichler

Die Abendglocke
auf dem Berge

(aus Sämtliche Werke. Band 16.
Neue verbesserte Auflage: 1822)

Zu der Musik des Freyherrn von Krufft
auf den Text: Glöckchen tönt
von luft’gen Höhen u.s.w.

Abend ist’s, mit leisen Düften
Sinkt die Dämm’rung in das Thal,
In den stillen, dunklen Lüften
Tönet nur vom Felsenwall
Feyerlich der Glocken Hall.

Wie von steilen Bergeshöhen
Dort der Thurm herunterblickt!
Und mit dieser Töne Wehen
Alles eitle Sorgen sinkt,
Tiefe Ruh ins Herz mir bringt!

Süße Klänge, mildes Tönen,
In dir löset sich mein Herz!
Und ein unbezwinglich Sehnen
Zieht die Seele himmelwärts,
Über Erdenlust und Schmerz.

Caroline Pichler (1769-1843)
österreichische Schriftstellerin,
Lyrikerin, Kritikerin und Salonnière

The Evening Bell
on the Mountain

(from Complete Works. Volume 16.
New corrected edition: 1822)

To the music of Freyherr of Krufft
on the text: Glöckchen tönt
von luft’gen Höhen and so on.

It's evening, with soft perfumes
The dusk sinks into the valley,
In the quiet, dark airs
Resounds only from the rock wall
The solemn echo of the bells.

Like from steep mountain heights
There the tower looks down!
And with these sounds’ drifting
All vain worry sinks,
Deep rest it brings into my heart!

Sweet sounds, mild tones,
My heart dissolves in you!
And an indomitable yearning
Draws the soul skyward,
Above earthly desire and pain.

Caroline Pichler (1769-1843)
Austrian writer,
poet, critic and salonnière

Literal translation: Edith LaGraziana 2019

Friday, 28 June 2019

Book Review: Hell Has No Limits by José Donoso
Ever since scientists first expounded their theory of evolution, those in power gladly have been taking recourse to the concept of the survival of the fittest to justify even their most selfish actions before themselves. Unquestionably, the urge to exercise power over others belongs to human nature, but often it brings forth the worst in a person. Less settled characters even seem to think that it were their inborn right to bully those who are weaker than themselves and defenceless. In the 1960s Chilean classic Hell Has No Limits by José Donoso the homosexual transvestite living in a small rural brothel is regularly teased and beaten up by the clients because her mere presence provokes them. For nearly twenty years she has been co-owner together with the girl whom he fathered in the night when she agreed to help the Madame win a wager pretending to have sex with her.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: June by William Morris


(from Earthly Paradise: 1868-70)

     O June, O June, that we desired so,
Wilt thout not make us happy on this day?
Across the river thy soft breezes blos
Sweet with the scent of beanfields far away,
Above our heads rustle the aspens grey,
Calm is the sky with harmless clouds beset,
No thought of storm the morning vexes yet.
     See, we have left our hopes and fears behind
To give our very hearts up unto thee;
What better place than this then could we find
By this sweet stream that knows not of the sea,
That guesses not the city’s misery,
This little stream whose hamlets scarce have names,
This far-off lonely mother of the Thames?
     Here then, O June, thy kindness will we take;
And if indeed but pensive men we seem,
What should we do? thou wouldst not have us wake
From out the arms of this rare happy dream
And wish to leave the murmur of the stream,
The rustling boughs, the twitter of the birds,
And all thy thousand peaceful happy words.

     Now in the early June they deemed it good
That they should go unto a house that stood
On their chief river, so upon a day
With favouring wind and tide they took their way
Up the fair stream; most lovely was the time
Even amidst the days of that fair clime,
And still the wanderers thought about their lives,
And that desire that rippling water gives
To youthful hearts to wander anywhere.
     So midst sweet sights and sounds a house most fair
They came to, set upon the river side
Where kindly folk their coming did abide;
There they took land, and in the lime-trees’ shade
Beneath the trees they found the fair feast laid,
And sat, well pleased; but when the water-hen
Had got at last to think them harmless men,
And they with rest, and pleasure, and old wine,
Began to feel immortal and divine,
An elder spoke, “O gentle friends, the day
Amid such calm delight now slips away,
And ye yourselves are grown so bright and glad
I care not if I tell you something sad;
Sad, though the life I tell you of passed by,
Unstained by sordid strife or misery;
Sad, because though a glorious end it tells
Yet on the end of glorious life it dwells,
And striving through all things to reach the best
Upon no midway happiness will rest.”

William Morris (1834-1896)
British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist

Friday, 21 June 2019

Book Review: Portrait of a Man Unknown by Nathalie Sarraute

Not only political power can bring the despotic vein of a person to the surface. In fact, most of us will be a lot more familiar with it from a family setting where it shows more or less markedly in relations with children or less self-assured relatives, notably a weak spouse. This wish to rule over others, to impose our will on them seems to be deeply rooted in our nature. In addition, living it we often pass it on to the next generations. The father in Portrait of a Man Unknown by Nathalie Sarraute is tough to his grown-up daughter whose penchant for a carefree and extravagant life he disapproves because he had to work very hard to live in moderate wealth. He even threw her out of his flat to teach her a lesson, but she always comes back to him for money that he grudgingly gives her…

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Back Reviews Reel: June 2016

With my first summer reads of three years ago, I travelled from India to three countries of South-East Asia. With my opening review I went a little astray because The Monkey Grammarian by Octavio Paz, the Mexican Nobel recipient of 1990, is contemporary poetry in prose with a notable philosophical dimension. My two classics of the month, Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon and Burmese Days by George Orwell, evoke life at the Royal Court of Siam, now Thailand, in the late nineteenth century and British Colonial history in Burma, now Myanmar, in the period between the World Wars respectively. The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka, on the other hand, is the story of a dutiful teenage girl from Ceylon who is married off in 1929 to a Tamil man presumed wealthy living in Malaya and becomes a clever matriarch guiding her descendants safely through difficult times.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: Happiness by Anna Peyre Dinnies


(from The Floral Year: 1847)

There is a spell in every flower—
A sweetness in each spray,
And every simple bird has power
To please me with its lay!

And there is music on each breeze
That sports along the glade;
The crystal dew-drops on the trees
Are gems, by Fancy made.

There's gladness too in every thing,
And beauty over all,
For everywhere comes on, with Spring,
A charm which cannot pall!

And I! — my heart is full of joy,
And gratitude is there,
That He, who might my life destroy,
Has yet vouchsafed to spare.

The friends I once condemn'd are now
Affectionate and true;
I wept a pledged one's broken vow—
But he proves faithful too.

And now there is a happiness
In every thing I see,
Which bids my soul rise up and bless
The God who blesses me.

Anna Peyre Dinnies (1816-1886)
American poet and prose-writer

Friday, 14 June 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

No notable ruler of a country ever made his or her fame out of the blue, but they were all strong-minded men and women who had to prove their skill in war and politics to rise to power and then to keep, if not increase it. Some of them certainly had a privileged start as heirs to a throne, while others really had to fight hard to conquer their place in history, often together with new territories. The young German Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst was one of the latter. When she arrived in Moscow in February 1744 to marry the Russian Crown Prince, nobody would have thought that the palace girls and spy who is the narrating protagonist of The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak, which I chose to present as another bookish déjà-vu, would witness her rise to power as ill-famed and much feared Tsarina Catherine II the Great.
Read my review »

Monday, 10 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

A Red, Red Rose

(from James Johnson (ed.), The Scottish Musical Museum: 1794)

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Robert Burns (1759-1796)
Scottish poet and lyricist

Friday, 7 June 2019

Book Review: The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder
The people who rule a country, be it a republic or a monarchy, a democracy or a dictatorship, even a tyranny, quite naturally provoke controversy. They carry the burden of responsibility, but often everybody else seems to know better than they. Sometimes this may even be true, especially when looks, charisma and populist catchphrases – in other words a good performance – make the public blind to their incompetence and to their lack of ideals. At the same time, power can corrupt even the most able ruler because it easily produces a growing hunger for more. This is a dangerous game as Caius Julius Cæsar knew well, and yet, he continued to undermine the Roman republic. In The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder the Dictator’s writings and those of friends and foes, men and women, citizens and slaves bring to life the atmosphere in Rome in the months before his assassination.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: Thoughts in a Library by Anne C. Lynch

Thoughts in a Library

 (from Poems: 1848)

Speak low — tread softly through these halls;
     Here genius lives enshrined,—
Here reign, in silent majesty,
     The monarchs of the mind.

A mighty spirit-host they come,
     From every age and clime;
Above the buried wrecks of years,
     They breast the tide of Time.

And in their presence-chamber here,
     They hold their regal state,
And round them throng a noble train,
     The gifted and the great.

Oh, child of Earth! when round thy path
     The storms of life arise,
And when thy brothers pass thee by,
     With stern, unloving eyes,—

Here shall the Poets chant for thee
     Their sweetest, loftiest lays;
And Prophets wait to guide thy steps
     In wisdom’s pleasant ways.

Come, with these God-anointed kings,
     Be thou companion here;
And in thy mighty realm of mind,
     Thou shalt go forth a peer!

Anne C. Lynch (1815-1891)
American poet, writer, teacher and socialite

Friday, 31 May 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago

The past can be as tempting a subject of contemplation as a better future, but while we can shape the last according to our dreams and plans, the first is impossible to change. What happened, happened. Despite all, the question “what if things had been differently” sometimes springs to our minds with such force that we get absorbed in futile reflections. Of course, such ruminations use to focus on a rather recent past and on something that we did or didn’t do in a specific situation. Science fiction writers, however, usually step further back in history to fill entire novels with alternative pasts. Out of a sudden whim the protagonist of my bookish déjà-vu, The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago, alters a minor detail in the proofs of a history book that he corrects and thus begins his alternative account of events and a love story…
Read my review»

Monday, 27 May 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Green Linnet by William Wordsworth

The Green Linnet

(from Poems. Volume I: 1807)

Beneath these fruit-tree boughs that shed
Their snow-white blossoms on my head,
With brightest sunshine round me spread
               Of spring's unclouded weather,
In this sequestered nook how sweet
To sit upon my orchard-seat!
               And birds and flowers once more to greet,
               My last year's friends together.

One have I marked, the happiest guest
In all this covert of the blest:
Hail to Thee, far above the rest
               In joy of voice and pinion!
Thou, Linnet! in thy green array,
Presiding Spirit here today,
               Dost lead the revels of the May;
               And this is thy dominion.

While bird, and butterflies, and flowers,
Make all one band of paramours,
Thou, ranging up and down the bowers,
               Art sole in thy employment:
A Life, a Presence like the Air,
Scattering thy gladness without care,
               Too blest with any one to pair;
               Thyself thy own enjoyment.

Amid yon tuft of hazel trees,
That twinkle to the gusty breeze,
Behold him perched in ecstasies,
               Yet seeming still to hover;
There! where the flutter of his wings
Upon his back and body flings
               Shadows and sunny glimmerings,
               That cover him all over.

My dazzled sight he oft deceives,
A Brother of the dancing leaves;
Then flits, and from the cottage eaves
               Pours forth his song in gushes;
As if by that exulting strain
He mocked and treated with disdain
               The voiceless Form he chose to feign,
               While fluttering in the bushes.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
English Romantic poet